For many years, the food shelf at Our Saviour’s Housing has perhaps flown under the radar as a lesser known aspect of our services. Now, the COVID pandemic has put a spotlight on the urgent community need for affordable, nutritious food. In response to this need, we’ve deepened and grown our food initiatives across the organization. This article highlights these efforts.
Residents in our housing programs have long used our food shelf at Calvary House to stock pantry staples, especially at the end of the month when SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits run low. While this resource has always been popular, we’ve seen increased use during the pandemic. Food prices are on the rise, and some folks are feeling hesitant to go to the store. For residents in our transitional houses, knowing there’s a reliable source of food next door is a comfort. On the permanent supportive housing side, case managers have been dropping off food on residents’ doorsteps.
OSCS provided 47,000 pounds of food through approximately 1,000 food shelf visits in 2020.
Second Harvest, the Food Group, and North Country Food Alliance, our community partners who supply food to us each month, have been instrumental in helping us meet this increased community need. We also received a grant through the CARES Act for sorely needed renovations to upgrade our OSH food shelf.
Previously, anyone who came for food would find items stacked in boxes from floor to ceiling in the Calvary House basement. This made it difficult to walk through and see what was available. Now newly installed shelving units make the experience more like shopping at a grocery store. We also purchased an additional chest freezer and remodeled the Calvary House kitchen, the first space visitors see when they come to the food shelf. All of these changes allow us to offer both a more functional and welcoming space.
The English Learning Center also joined our food efforts! Early in the pandemic, we opened the OSH food shelf to ELC students as we learned they too were facing food insecurity. Then, in the aftermath of last summer’s civil unrest, with everything in our immediate area closed, many of our students were uncertain where to find basic food items. The school was a safe, trusted place for them to get what they needed.
“[The food shelf] is important to us because it comes [in] handy during hard times. We really appreciate ELC to deliver or call us because of the food shelf being there for us. We know the staff and they offer us good things. The staff are very good people.” – Muhubo, ELC Student
Since then, we’ve continued to offer food assistance as part of our ELC services. With the support of a Minnesota COVID food fund grant, we opened a food shelf on site at the school, focused on providing culturally appropriate and nutritious items. For example, we provide halal meat for our Muslim students and avoid canned food, which our students typically don’t use for cultural and health reasons. Cooking staples, such as rice, flour, sugar, and oil are popular items.
What started as providing food to ten students and their families monthly has now tripled to nearly thirty, including home delivery via our school van for those who need it. Although we remain focused on education, we recognize that there are many barriers to education, including hunger. Our goal is to make sure no one is so hungry they are unable to learn.
In each program, our food initiatives provide more than just physical sustenance. They create community during a time when so many of us are at risk of isolation. While our transitional housing residents are unable to have visitors at the house, they can share a meal together as a household “pod.” And our case managers can say hello from a distance when they drop off food for residents. ELC staff member Mohamed Assalle, who makes deliveries to students, echoes the value of this connection: “Students see how we’re all about them. I call and ask them how they’re doing and tell them I’m going to stop by their home. It’s about the relationship and the care, not just the thing.”